The “We Can Do It!” poster created by artist J. Howard Miller was initially published by Westinghouse Company as a war effort. Rosie is shown wearing a red bandana and blue coveralls in it. The original intention of the poster was to boost employee morale. It has been mistakenly called “Rosie the Riveter” poster ever since.
Decades after the war, when the poster was rediscovered, some basic (i.e. pre-internet) research turned up an AP Wire Service photograph of a woman working a machine at the Alameda Naval Base that may have inspired the We Can Do It! Poster. In the photograph she is wearing a turban, slacks, and coverall gown that keeps her from getting tangled in the machinery. The photo ran without a caption.
A woman from Michigan, Geraldine Doyle, thought she recognized herself in the image and publicly claimed credit as the model. Doyle only worked at a factory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the summer of 1942. As a cellist, she became afraid that machine work might injure her hands, and so she quit her one and only factory job after just a few weeks and married a dentist. Though she was celebrated as the model for decades, there’s no way she could have been the figure in the picture, which was taken months before she graduated from high school.
In the early 2000s, when Geraldine Doyle insisted to the Rosie the Riveter Museum that she had been the woman in the picture, another woman named Naomi Parker accused her of identity theft and submitted a sworn affidavit, several profile and full-face pictures of herself, and a notarized copy of her birth certificate for good measure. The media did not believe her story.
When Doyle passed away in 2010 the media lamented in no uncertain terms the passing of “Rosie the Riveter” model Geraldine Doyle.
In 2011 the Rosie the Riveter National Park put out a call for other Rosies to share their memories and artifacts from the war years. Naomi Parker Fraley and her sister sent in some items, including a clipping of the lathe woman photograph from a 1942 newspaper, noting that Parker herself was the subject of the photo. The Park Service soon replied in a formal letter, saying that its personnel were already familiar with the picture of that woman, whom other sources had previously “identified as ‘Geraldine Doyle.'” By that point, Doyle’s tale was so widespread that even government officials had trouble disbelieving it.
Fraley’s late-in-life fame came as the result of the dedicated efforts made by one scholar, James J. Kimble.
Kimble’s 2016 article revealed his findings in the journal Rhetoric & Public Affairs, called “Rosie’s Secret Identity.” At the time, the New York Times reported, Fraley gave an interview to the Omaha World-Herald in which she gave a simple yet memorable description of how it felt to finally be known to the world as the real-life Rosie: “Victory! Victory! Victory!”
On January 22, 20-18 Naomi Parker Fraley, the real “Rosie the Riveter” died at the age of 96 in Longview, Washington.